Making Your Own Carry Ammo?

It’s come time to replace my carry ammo. I’ve become lax about it. Normally I try to do this every six months, but it’s been more like a year. Faced with about a sixty dollar bill to do the replacement, it’s gotten me wondering about making my own loads. But conventional wisdom says this is a bad idea, because a prosecutor could try to argue in court that you custom made an extra lethal load, and your hand loads won’t be as reliable as factory ammo.

That’s always sounded far fetched to me, but decent ammo was cheap enough I didn’t care to really question this too much. Now that I have some experience with hand loading, I don’t really notice any reliability problems with my loads. What do you folks think? Is hand loading your carry load really a bad idea? What are some tips for doing so if you don’t think it’s a bad idea?

43 Responses to “Making Your Own Carry Ammo?”

  1. Robb Allen says:

    I’ll make the same challenge I offer to anyone (including Masaad Ayoob)

    Show me ONE SINGLE CASE in the history of the US where somebody was convicted of manslaughter simply for using hand loads where otherwise he (or she) would have gotten off.

    Just one.

    And even then, I’ll continue to carry what I pack. I trust my loads more than factory because I loaded them myself. The only failures I’ve ever had with my loads happened when I first started and didn’t check each and every powder drop (had a squib).

    This is one of most absurd thoughts I see from gunnies – that somehow making your own ammunition shows intent somehow where purchasing ammo doesn’t. I load, I have lots of documentation of me loading for a long time, I shoot my reloads at the range and at competitions. It would be damned near difficult to try to pin the “loaded specifically for this event” card on me.

  2. AnthonyB says:

    Agree with Robb – this is a Mas Ayoob generated fear. I proudly carry reloads and find my ammo to be at least as reliable as factory – it is hard to improve on 100%. Tony

  3. I agree with Robb — I seriously doubt that any prosecutor will seriously care about the specific type of ammo you use, so long as you’re not packing your casings with shards of broken glass, HIV-infected needles, and so forth.

    If, $DEITY forbid, you end up having to shoot someone in self-defense using handmade defensive ammo composed of standard components (e.g. off-the-shelf JHP bullets, commercially available powder and primers, etc.), it seem to my non-lawyerly self that it would be a trivial defense to say “I used commonly available components combined into a load listed as being within the safe pressure and velocity range in Reloading Manual A, Reloading Manual B, and Powder Manufacturer’s Data C.” If worse comes to pass, you could always have the ammo tested in a lab to ensure that it falls within SAAMI specs.

    That said, I stick with factory ammo in my defensive loads, mostly because the components are excellent and oftentimes unavailable for reloading (e.g. I can’t get Federal HST bullets as components…then again, finding HST ammo is hard enough…). That, and I don’t have any pistol dies — I load exclusively for rifle. :)

  4. There isn’t much factory loaded ammo in our house other than .22 LR. Target practice makes a shooter “more deadly,” and we wouldn’t think of doing without sufficient range time. I have been loading .38s, .357s, and .44s for thirty years, and my reloads are in my revolvers right now.

  5. Xander says:

    My question wouldn’t be about reliability or what a DA might think, but about how would reloads compare to commercial defensive ammunition? I know that the ammunition companies do a huge amount of testing to tune their ammo into the precise penetration/expansion characteristics…Can you duplicate that with a hand-load? A hollow-point that’s moving too fast or slow to expand properly, while it may go bang every time, isn’t an ideal carry round. Not being a re-loader, the answer to this question may well be yes…I just don’t know.

  6. B Smith says:

    I don’t reload, so I’m ignorant here. But my question is, assuming you’re using a standard powder load, and not some super-hot bear-killers, would there be any way for the prosecution to KNOW that the round from the bad guy was reloaded? If you’re using pre-fired brass, and the bullet deformed normally on impact, how could anyone tell?

  7. B Smith: Probably not, unless one was using mixed brass and fired multiple rounds (or they seized your magazine for the investigation), or a combination of bullet-and-brass not offered by a manufacturer (e.g. Remington does not load Speer Gold Dot bullets).

  8. Sean Sorrentino says:

    i believe that it is not the initial prosecution that is the danger here. if you are legal to use deadly force, you are legal to shoot him with pretty much anything. or run him over with a car, or drop a piano on his head. the real issue is how it plays in the inevitable “wrongful death” suit. there the rules are not so clear cut. that’s the reason we need civil immunity.

  9. chris says:

    I too have to agree with Rob. I have asked repeatedly on various forums for case law examples of this being a problem for several years now and not seen even one response that linked to a court case.

    Frankly, If your ammo is going to be brought up as being an issue, you probably shouldn’t have shot in the first damn place.

  10. daeglan says:

    The problem comes from being in court and adding an extra hurdle to your case. Your reloading data says you did X. But can you convince the jury you did? Can you prove beyond a reasonable doubt that what was in your gun matches your notes? The Slick Prosecuting Attorney is going to point out to the Jury that you could easily make a load and not make any notes about it. Is it really worth the risk of going to jail for what $60? Masad Ayoob has sited many cases where it was a problem. If you want to know the cases ask him. Go to and go to the forums and ask under the proarms podcast. He will tell you about them. I know he has talked about it in the podcast. And its not manslaughter it would likely be murder you are going down for.

  11. daeglan: Yes, you certainly can. It’s likely that in a self-defense scenario, even a legit one, the police will seize the weapon used in self-defense.

    It’s very easy to perform basic ballistic tests on the ammunition remaining in one’s magazine. Pressure, velocity, etc. are all easily verified in a lab. One can conclusively state that the ammunition in the defender’s gun is within published specs.

    Also, you assume that a reloader takes notes on their loads. I certainly don’t take regular notes. I’ve found a few good loads for what I shoot and scribbled them down on post-its that I stuck in the load manual. I don’t document each lot that I reload.

    Considering that people have defended themselves with weapons ranging from swords to machine guns and have been found to have acted lawfully, I seriously doubt that a common handload (e.g. JHP on top of a powder/primer combo listed in a common load manual) will have any bearing whatsoever in court so long as the shoot itself was good.

  12. dagamore says:

    While i agree with Robb, i like the idea of extra protection in the fact that i could say that i am carrying the same load as the City/County and State police, if its good enough for them its good enough for me.

  13. The only thing that I can say is that I saw a TV show several years ago, (60 Min?,) about the guy who was walking through the woods on a trail and was menaced by 2 dogs and when the man pulled out his handgun the dogs owner started running at the man. The man defended himself and killed the dog owner. He was found guilty of murder and when they interviewed the Jury, one woman could not understand why the man used a 10 mm 1911. The DA had made a big deal about how powerful a 10 mm was. (This case was in the news a few months ago because he guy finally won on appeal.) I think the same thing would go for ammo.

  14. NJSoldier says:

    I don’t handload so my first mag is exactly the same Gold-Dots the NJ State Police carry.

  15. FatWhiteMan says:

    I agree with Sean. While I am sure not even the mighty Ayoob will come up with a case prosecuted as Robb challenged, I bet it is not as big of a stretch to come up with civil cases. In a civil case, the opposing attorney has more latitude to build you up as an ammo crafting killing machine than a prosecutor has.

    That being said, I have carried reloads. I do not now simply because I only have suitable bullets on hand for target loads.

    On another note, I’m also guilty of the AZ Rifleman practice of post it notes stuck in reloading manuals.

  16. Robb Allen says:

    OC, then I’m doubly f***ed since I reload 10mm. Of course, in the story you’re discussing, the charges were dropped, so it’s a moot point.

    I have asked around for cases where reloading was the deciding factor in ANY suit and nobody has been able to pull a single instance. Remember, the prosecutor is going to try to pull every trick out of his ass to prove you guilty (whether you are or not. Yay “justice” system!). If you don’t reload, then he’ll go for the ‘hollow point’ argument. Or the fact you carried a spare magazine. Or that you carried a gun at all.

    If you’re truly worried about the court case, you’ve not thought out self defense all the way through. You shoot someone, you’re going to court, and there WILL be some scum sucking a**hole who is going to try to put you away because that’s his or her job. However, as screwed up as our justice system is, if you’re in the right, then you’re better off defending yourself both on the streets and in the courtroom.

  17. teke175 says:

    I can’t recall if it is a Massaad Ayoob story or not but I heard Tom Gresham talking about it if my memory recalls. There was a case, not sure of the outcome, where the ballistics of the hand loads were questioned. The judge threw out the meticuously kept handloading book because the prosecuter claimed that the defendant maufactured the evidence and there was no proof of when the records were written. I think the argument would come more into play if there were some sort of ballistics tests done. I can’t go out and but a box of snowflakesinhell defense ammo but I can get a box of Hornady or federal to substantiate claims and evidence such as powder flash. I for one would stick to factory.

    Also I am curious as to why you change out your ammo so often. If we are still finding that ammunition from 100 years ago goes bang why change every 6 months?

  18. Dannytheman says:

    I only shoot and carry what I make. IF, and I hope it never happens, I have to use my rounds to defend myself, my fear of the bad guy trumps my care of a overzealous DA. I have a good NRA approved lawyer and also know I would not say anything to the police.

  19. Robb Allen says:

    teke175, I know of the case of which you speak, but the problem wasn’t the hand loading, it was the powder burns pointed very much toward a non-self defense shooting. The man tried to claim that his loads were ‘mouse farts’ and thus wouldn’t have made much of a flash or something. Basically, he said he shot them point blank, but it appeared that it was a distance shooting.

    The hand loads weren’t the issue, it was his story that required them to look into it deeper.

  20. kaveman says:

    There was a case here in Oregon where a guy went to prison because he shot a real bad guy, the bullet over penetrated and hit an innocent person behind the bad guy.

    Prosecuters argued that he munufactured the round ultra deadly ninga plus 5 and was responsible for the over penetration.

    He went to prison for 5 years.

    Best bet is to call the local police and ask them what they carry in their duty weapons and then carry the exact same stuff yourself.

    That way, if you ever do get dragged into court and the prosecuter asks what ammo you used, you can point to the ballif in the corner and say you used the exact same stuff he does.

  21. Robb Allen says:

    Kaveman, even if he had use the same ammo as Barney Fife, he was responsible for the bullet. I’ve heard similar stories about people killing innocents with wayward / over penetrating shots and they got the same treatment.

    I’d like to see the entire case because I have a feeling that had he used standard, off the shelf ammo, he’d still be in jail right now.

  22. M4finny says:

    NJSoldier wrote: “I don’t handload so my first mag is exactly the same Gold-Dots the NJ State Police carry.” Well, New Jersey prohibits the knowing possession of any hollow nose or dum-dum bullet. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-3(f). So, you may want to reconsider your carry options.

  23. NJSoldier says:

    M4finny – That law, like most Jersey gun laws, is convoluted and subject to interpretation.

    I obviously don’t carry – I live in NJ. That ammo is just for uninvited guests at the Soldier residence.

    My current box of Gold Dots was bought less than a year ago over the counter in Ledgewood NJ.

  24. I think Mas has a valid point, and i for one, wouldn’t want anymore attention than the situation merits. My carry gun is just that. Right off the shelf, no mod’s other than sights/grip. Just well broken in. Ammo is the same. Top shelf defensive ammo, not that i have any against hand loads … they kill things just as dead.

  25. Sebastian says:

    It’s legal to be in possession of hollow point ammo in New Jersey, as with everything gun related in the Garden State, under limited exceptions. In the home is one of the exceptions, and transporting from the shop to the home is another. So anyone with Gold Dots in their home is fine under the law. Now stop by the Wal-Mart to get some cleaning supplies on the way back from the store, you fall out of the exemption. You can’t carry them in NJ either, even with a permit to carry.

  26. ExurbanKevin says:

    OC, then I’m doubly f***ed since I reload 10mm. Of course, in the story you’re discussing, the charges were dropped, so it’s a moot point.

    The charges were dropped on Harold Fish ( this year because the laws regarding reasonable concern for your life were changed in Arizona, (, not because of his choice of ammo was ruled appropriate.

    Harold Fish was convicted (in part) because he was carrying a 10mm and was using hand-loaded hollow point ammo. Was he convicted because of that alone? No. Did it hurt him in court? Yes.

  27. ExurbanKevin says:

    I look at it in terms of adding any impediments onto my lawyer’s case. If he can turn to the jury and say that the bullets I used were the same thing that the bailiff has in his sidearm, that’s one less battle he has to fight with the plaintiff’s attorney.

  28. kaveman says:

    Robb, I don’t remmeber the guys name in this instance. It was told to me by the guy who did my CHL class. He related the guy involved was a former CHL student of his who called him for advice on his situation.

    I’m not trying to argue not over zealous prosecuters won’t try every trick in the book to gain a conviction, just that reloaded ammo gives them one more trick to throw at the wall to see if it sticks.

  29. WinOregon says:

    So why are replacing your carry ammo every six months? I have shot some very old ammo over the years and never had a problem. The only time I’ve encountered issues has been with cheaper plinking or remanufactored ammo.

  30. Robb Allen says:

    I’ll be honest with you, if the prosecution is forced into relying on hand loaded ammunition as a sticking point, the case is pretty much sealed shut and I’m going home a free man.

    I followed the Fish case as I am in his situation – hand loaded 10mm. They threw everything in the book at him. Had it not been hand loads, it would have been something else. The only thing that would have made Fish’s life any easier would have been not to shoot.

    We’re talking ROI here, folks. The chances of you being involved in a shooting are very, very slim to begin with. I’ve used a firearm in self defense, and even then I didn’t fire a single shot. That seems to be the norm.

    Then, the police are going to try to recover casings and hopefully the bullets themselves in order to ensure that the gun that was used is the one you had when they showed up. They’re not going to examine the bullet and the primer and the casing and the powder to see if they match a known manufacturer’s standard unless they are told to. And considering their backlog, that’s not a common event (from the information I’ve discussed with law officials).

    Finally, in court, the prosecution is going to pull every trick to convict you. There’s no difference in the concept of loading your own ammunition and putting on a different set of grips – it can be argued that you’ve modified your pistol to be ‘more lethal’ (yeah, it sounds dumb because it is). The chances of me losing in court based on that fact alone are nil. If it were likely, we’d see it all the time in court cases.

    So, for the .0000001% chance that I might have to explain to a jury why I build my own ammo (simple – cost effectiveness) and, as a 10mm guy who doesn’t feel like spending $35 on 20 Self Defense cartridges that I cannot practice with due to cost, I’m willing to take that risk because I’m practically assured it’s never going to be an issue.

    However, I will say this – If you’re not comfortable with carrying reloads, for Pete’s sake don’t!!! If you DO carry factory made self defense ammo but practice with cheaper stuff, that’s a bad move. I can honestly say that what I practice with is the same stuff I’d use during a SD situation and that the comfort with those rounds allow me to be more precise in my shot placement.

    Finally, a word of advice. For those of you who think that hand loads are an actionable thing in a courtroom, how do you think the prosecution is going to look at your comments here? Or your blogs? I think talking about this kind of stuff online is more damaging than if you carry a specific combination of off the shelf components.

  31. Jim W says:

    Speaking as an attorney, I can tell you that:
    -most judges and lawyers know absolutely nothing about firearms or ammunition. Gun people are about 1% of the attorney population, even in pro-gun states. Probably even less in other states. Even criminal defense guys and prosecutors are not well versed in firearms tech.
    -most attorneys and judges are unaware of reloading, just as most attorneys are unaware of the NFA, most concealed carry concepts, etc. Even in very pro-gun states, any appellate judges are still operating under the conception that backup guns and spare magazines are signs of criminality.
    -by corollary, most prosecutors will not even know what to look for to determine if the ammunition in a shooting was reloaded
    -it will never occur to any of the attorneys in any given shooting to ask technical questions because none of them have the background to make use of it or even know what questions are worth asking

    Even if you publicly admit that you shot someone with extra deadly rounds of ammo that you made yourself, there’s still a decent chance that such an admission would still be excluded as irrelevant to the legal issues at stake in the trial. The issue usually isn’t whether you were trying to kill someone, it’s whether you were justified in doing so.

    In the end, it’s a risk, but a minor one. A defense attorney who can’t get something like that excluded is just as likely to miss something else even if you don’t admit to anything or use factory ammo.

    In the end, the best general advice is to avoid being a dumbass so that you don’t give prosecutors a million reasons to proceed. Most self-defense prosecutions (at least around here) seem to result from facepalm inducing conduct.

  32. m4finny says:

    NJ Soldier wrote: “I obviously don’t carry – I live in NJ. That ammo is just for uninvited guests at the Soldier residence.”


  33. Jay says:

    At the CHL class I sat in on, the instructor told the class to find out what the local LEOs were carrying ammo wise, and use that.

    Then again, the instructor did say you’d have to sweat out the civil suit more than the criminal one.

  34. Mikee says:

    So if I load my self defense handgun with the same ammo used by the local police, I am using something that can be described as “ammo so powerful it is normally only used by law enforcement, not civilians.”

    An unjustifiable statement by a prosecutor needs to be rebutted by the defense attorney, and almost anything can be made to look bad.

    I have a Glock 19 9mm. “So this gun is completely unmodified from when you bought it. Did you buy this gun because it is favored by gang members, or because you could use it to shoot as many times as the Virginia Tech killer?”

    I have a S&W Model 10 38 SPL. “This gun is almost 40 years old! Did you buy it knowing it had no safety lock and could be used to kill someone quicker because it lacked that safety device now installed on every S&W revolver?”

    I have a Ruger 10/22. “So the semiautomatic feature of this gun made it easy to pump 5 rounds into the victim before he even fell over?”

    I have a cheap Mossberg Mustang 12 gauge shotgun. “This evil black plastic weapon – did you buy it because it could be discarded after you shot someone with it, because it was inexpensive?”

    I’m sure you can think of your own prosecutorial statements about the vile and evil intent evidenced by your choice of self defense weapon. Presenting the truth convincingly with enough information for the jury to understand is absolutely necessary.

  35. Laughingdog says:

    Regarding comment #7, that’s a bit of a stretch regarding the tuning of factory defensive ammo. The actual speed of the round depends primarily on two things: the amount of gunpowder in the cartridge and the length of your barrel. Any tuning they do with those rounds is most likely to ensure they don’t exceed maximum pressure on longer barreled guns. If you have a sub-compact, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have enough velocity to get good expansion.

    I load my own carry ammo. If that was ever an issue in court (unlikely since I doubt any LEO or prosecutor would recognize non-factory ammo), my answer would simply be that I reload carry ammo and competition ammo for the same reasons: better accuracy and better reliability.

    As for reloaded ammo landing you in jail, I have heard of one case of that, but it had nothing to do with self-defense. I have no cite, since this is off the top of my head. Dude was charged for murdering his wife. He claimed it was suicide. His story was that he reloaded soft ammo for her gun because she wasn’t comfortable with full-recoil. She shot herself in the head, and the police forensics people said there wasn’t enough powder residue on her head for it to be a self-inflicted wound. They based that on factory ammo and refused to do tests with the other ammo in the gun to see if that ammo would be consitent with the residue found.

  36. All of my ammo is reloaded.
    Cost and availability the driving force.
    The local DA, a neighbor, has never heard of it being brought up at trial.

  37. Albert Rasch says:

    Feel free to roll your own. With the appropriate care, your home growns will be as reliable as factory. I use a handloads in my 45LC, and factory in my 45ACP. 38sp has both available to it.

    Best regards,
    Why I Carry a Gun

  38. Robert says:

    Plus it’s fun.

  39. LFS says:

    Interestingly enough, I was looking for the case file of a wrongful death suit here, and discovered it was a royal PITA to get it from the circuit court. To say you have never heard of case, doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. A lot of cases are not available readily for research.

    But that is beside the point I intended to make here. If you want to get around the concern that the prosecutor will say you could have put in any load and that your notebook is meaningless, then get a friend to witness you making the load. The prosecutor would have a pretty hard time rebutting an eye witness without any real evidence.

  40. Clint says:

    It’s not about having a “Clean Shoot.”

    It’s about having a “cut and dry” court case.

    Remember, Harold Fish was convicted, in part, because he used hollowpoints in his 10 mm. The DA used that to “imply” malice which bolstered the DA’s case. Long story short, maybe it took a borderline jury into a “guilty” call.

    Fish won the appeal, but big whoop, that wasn’t a vacation he had in the state pen. Also, everyone needs to understand that the jury will be 12 people who are NON-SHOOTERS!

    I don’t hang out with fellow gunnies. My social circle includes a few hunters, a few people with a gun in the back of the closet for home defense, and a whole lotta people who know so little about guns that they couldn’t understand how the 4 Rules worked unless you had a prop to show them.

    Non-hunters and non-shooters think reloading is such a crazy thing to do that when you talk about it they look at you like a tree is growing out of your head! Furthermore, most people think hollowpoints =cop-killer-bullets. I know a woman (with said gun in the closet) that thought HP where too dangerous because “um, aren’t they, um, illegal, or something…” I then explained that her ammo was HP (I recommended it). She only knew that HER ammo was “good, self-defense” ammo. Hollowpoints are, after all stuff that only bad people use. The nice guy on TV said so. (Feel free to bonk your heads against something now).

    Here is the kicker. She is NOT the only one to do this. On a forum I used to frequent, there were a few stories about how non-gunnies just.don’ Example; gunny husband (lots of guns) with a wife (one gun, for protection) where the wife, after hearing the news one night, commented on “how bad” hollowpoints are and why would anyone make them, let alone use them. Husband then says to the Mrs “Honey, YOUR gun has hollowpoints.”

    “Oh, well then maybe they aren’t so bad.”

    This is what I call the “It’s always different when it’s YOU” syndrome.

    And THESE are the people who will be on YOUR jury.

    I was going to talk about what if your case gets “political” but John Ross said it better here:
    Comments on Using Handloads for Self-Defense

    And his is a lawyer who uses handloads. I am not anti-handloads for PD, but I insist others only do so “with both eyes” as the saying goes. Because, in short, that is how we should handle everything regarding personal defense

    One last thing; DO NOT fall into the mental trap of “I don’t have a problem with it, and I don’t know anyone who does.” Back in the USMC, I saw too many demotions because of that attitude. And don’t forget Pauline Kael of “Nobody I know voted for Nixon.” fame.

  41. Matt Groom says:

    I was watching TV one day. A show on shooting was on.
    My step-father, NOT a gun person, says of the guy on screen:
    “Look at this guy! He just LOOKS friggin’ paranoid!”
    “That’s Massad Ayoob!” Says I.
    “That’s sounds like a terrorist’s name! No wonder he looks paranoid! I bet he’s got an arsenal in that vest!” He says.
    “He’s a well respected Defensive firearms instructor, a former sheriff, a well known writer on firearms issues, blah, blah-blah, blah blah.” Says I.
    “Yeah, whatever.”

    We then proceed to watch Ayoob who is talking about carrying a back-up to your back up. He pulls out his primary pistol, a Glock 19 I recall. Then he pulls out two magazines for it. That’s 45 rounds for everyday carry. Then he pulls out his back up pistol. Then two magazines for that. Then he pulls out a big ass knife. Then a SECOND big ass knife. Then a multi-tool. Then a second. Then his wallet, then a money clip. Then a cell phone, then a second cell phone! Keys. Then a second set, and so on. I swear to god I’ve never been so humiliated by my redneck step-father as I was at that moment, because he was absolutely right. Massad Ayoob is PARANOID.

    I carry reloads in my 2 1/2″ S&W model 19-2 that I call “Mag-lites” because they are downloaded to keep from cracking the forcing cone on my beloved K-frame magnum. That is, they are LESS POWERFUL than factory ammo. I’d like to seem them bust me for that.

  42. I’m of the opinion that…

    a) Manufacturers of defense loads have more time and equipment to test than I do.

    b) While no case has come up where this has been called into question, I think it’s always best to take away as many tools from lawyers as possible. Remember, there was a point in which a 10mm was never used as an argument by a lawyer. And granted that got over-turned. But would you want to endure the hell and finances that it took before it was.

    c) Is it really that much for a handful of rounds?

  43. pax says:

    Lots of internet rumor here from people who obviously haven’t gone to the source. Too bad!

    Contrary to internet rumor, I’ve never heard Mas say anything at all about handloads being unreliable, nor anything like that. He recommends handloads for practice ammunition, so he’s not anti-reloading in any sense of the word. Rather, what you get from him is a very reasoned discussion of the benefits of having court-admissible data with exemplars from a reputable third party should your case turn out to hinge on ballistics, issues surrounding gunshot residue, or related questions that require destructive testing of ammunition samples for any other reason.

    It’s interesting because of course the common wisdom among online gunnies is that all you have to do is have a “good shoot” and questions like that just won’t come up. True enough, as far as it goes. The difficulty is that the very question of whether it’s a “good shoot” or not often hinges on physical evidence at the scene. If the physical evidence supports a claim of self-defense and supports your story, you’ll be in the clear. If it doesn’t, you won’t. Simple!

    But between those two extremes, there’s plenty of room for ambiguity.

    If the physical evidence is even a little unclear, or the story at all questionable in any way, it’s very likely that the prosecutor will decide to file charges and let a jury settle it. Once the system has decided to go forward with a prosecution, the entire investigation will be focused on finding inculpatory evidence (evidence that tends to support guilt) and will ignore exculpatory evidence (evidence that tends to support innocence). Which in turn means that it’s often difficult to get exculpatory evidence admitted at trial, particularly evidence you literally manufactured yourself. The handloads themselves were manufactured by you, and the scrupulously-careful records you keep (you do keep careful reloading records, right?) were also manufactured by you.

    While whatever’s left of the load in your carry gun will be admitted into evidence, assuming you didn’t fire the gun dry during the encounter, it’s not likely to do you any good if any part of your case hinges on ballistics, residue, or related questions. That’s because your lawyer probably will not be able to convince the court to tear those rounds apart to weigh the powder or to allow you to fire them to test the residues that will build your case — since doing either of those things would literally destroy the evidence and there are all sorts of legal precedents about that. At the same time, your lawyer will also find it impossible to convince the judge to admit your handloading records as “proof” of what the rounds in your carry gun actually consisted of. You wrote those records yourself, after all, so that’s kind of like writing your own excuse note at school, not “proof” of anything at all. So if you ever need ballistic or residue evidence (as you very likely will in the very, very unlikely event you’re involved in a court case to begin with), but you carry handloaded ammunition, you’ve just shut off a major source of evidence that might have been critical to your legal defense.

    Here’s a quote from LFI-1: “Know where the attack will come, and have a counter already in place.” Mas uses that line a lot, especially when he points out that lawyers cost a fortune. Every minute of time you can save your lawyer is an extra pile of cash you don’t have to pay out. Furthermore, even a good lawyer can have a bad day, and forget to counter something the prosecution brings up in court.

    Could an overzealous prosecutor try to get a jury riled up & worried about the type of ammunition you use? Of course one could. It might a fairly simple problem to counter, from an experienced defense lawyer’s perspective – but I’ve heard more than one experienced lawyer comment that ANY issue they have to counter in open court can create doubt in the minds of the jury and bias the jury against the defense. If the opponent creates enough doubt on enough different fronts, you lose your case.

    As an example, Harold Fish didn’t lose his first court case “because he used 10mm ammunition.” That’s an oversimplification and an obvious misunderstanding of the issues in play — and put that way, it makes a great big easily knocked down strawman for the people who support carrying handloads, as we see above. The truth is a bit more complex (as most legal issues are).

    Harold Fish had three big problems: a somewhat-ambiguous story, a prosecutor out to make a name for himself, and a lawyer who was inexperienced at defending a true self-defense case. The ambiguous story opened the door for the prosecution to go forward in the first place. The prosecutor did everything possible to discredit Fish in court, including dragging his choice of ammunition before the jury, while the defense lawyer failed to counter a great many of the damaging claims about Fish that the prosecution made in court. So the jury convicted. Several of the jurors later commented that one thing that swayed their debates in the jury room was Fish’s choice of a “dangerous” and “deadly” caliber. That doesn’t mean that he was convicted because of the ammunition, but his choice of ammunition was most definitely a factor in his conviction. Would the jury have convicted him if he’d used another type of ammunition? Who knows?! What we do know about his case is that the prosecution brought Fish’s choice of ammunition up in court, that the defense did a poor job of countering the prosecution’s claims, and that the jury members discussed their distaste for his ammunition choice in the jury room. Perhaps if Fish had a clearly-articulated reason for his ammunition choices, and also had a lawyer who understood the importance of getting those reasons in front of the jury, he might have had a better outcome in court.

    So back to knowing where an attack will come and having a counter in place: even with the high cost of ammunition it seems to me that it’s not so difficult to practice with a handload that perfectly emulates your factory defense load, and then to use the matched factory load for carry. You get the benefit of practicing with ammunition that is ballistically identical to your carry load, but miles cheaper. And you get the insurance factor of having easily admissible evidence on your side should you ever need it. Keeping your legal self-defense options open is probably worth it.


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